By Maya Pope-Chappell

Photo by Maya Pope-Chappell

Photo by Maya Pope-Chappell

Crisp snare drums bring the rain and the bass drums-they bring the thunder. The nervous silence that once whisked through the air is interrupted by the clash, thump and pound of the Approaching Storm marching band.

Created as an alternative to street gangs, drugs and violence, Approaching Storm showcases the talent of youth from East New York and surrounding Brooklyn neighborhoods. Ranked one of the leading bands in New York City, the southern-style band now holds 22 straight titles.

“In the beginning, it was hard to compete in New York because our different style, our format and of course the people that could not accept what we were doing to their bands,” said a boastful Sergio Carter, director of the Approaching Storm marching band.

Carter’s pride comes from the adversity that birthed the band three years ago. After being told to leave his post as percussion instructor of another band, he decided to head up his own.

“We had no drums, no nothing,” Carter said. “We was beating on encyclopedias, practicing out in the rain, we really didn’t have no housing. And they expected these kids to quit.”

Slowly, the band began to grow and they started doing more and more shows around New York. As the band became more successful, Carter says the rumors started spreading.

“While they was at home contemplating on the next negative venue to build around us, we was secretly building a winning venue,” Carter said. “A venue of strength.”

Relentless in their recovery from shambles, the band, now over 40 members strong, has weathered the storm.

The community-based band made up of boys and girls age 10 to 19 is full of personality and character.

“Nobody’s really the same,” Carter said. They all come from East New York or Brownsville, so when it was time for me to teach, I had a rough group of kids. And that’s what it comes out to be. Hard work. Tough kids. Tough attitudes. Tough playing then tough winning.”

Carters guidance and influence on band members have had a lasting effect. As a result, Carter’s tough love often blurs the lines between director, mentor, and father.

Five former members of Approaching Storm have moved on, each obtaining a band scholarship for universities across the country including Clark Atlanta, Virginia State, and Morgan State.

“I eventually hope that me being a dancer in the Approaching Storm marching band will lead me to being a dancer in a HBCU [Historically Black Colleges and Universities] college band,” said Tuesday Hawkins, 18, who will graduate next year.

This January, the band hopes to be performing before thousands in the 56th Inaugural Parade in Washington D.C. for President-elect Barack Obama’s. In February, the band will host their second annual competition, “Battle of the Elements,” at the Brownsville Recreation Center.